Snapshots: See Where it Happened
It was Saturday and I was back on the Ave, selling dreams. I love this street. It's the heart of Berkeley. East Coasters like to sneer about how the continent tilted and all the nuts rolled over to California. Damn straight.
Berkeley is the only city in the US that has a foreign policy. Sure, we still have one sandaled foot permanently stuck in the '60's. But, as open to ridicule as this city is, Berkeley still manages to remind the rest of the nation that once there was a time when love was free, when youth felt like they could change the world, and when they did.
But not on this day. The vendors squeezed the pedestrians to the wall, slowing foot traffic enough to inspire impulse buying. It was show time for Capitalism on this Retro Main Street where the leftovers from the Summer of Love mix with Tribal Piercing Grunge.
It was 8:00, Monday morning. I'd finished my chores. I headed for Caffe Mediterraneum I had to hike across the campus, but it was worth it. Rigid personalities need their Lattes perfect. The Med had been there since eggheads, hipsters and beatniks foraged along the 'Ave. New owners tried to turn it into an art gallery and jazz club, but this early in the morning its true nature was apparent: this was caffeine's version of an opium den. Later in the day leathered, punctured teenagers would hang out in front to scare the tourists away. But this early, it was just wasted students, and untenured professors who frequented the joint. It was a serious crowd. We came there to fix up on caffeine, and it had all the warmth of a crack house.
I climbed to the top of a small hill. The path dropped down to Hearst Street. From this spot I could look right across a valley into the living room of my third story apartment. The men going through my possessions were in clear sight.
Berkeley's wharf was built in the early 1800's to ship wood, soap, gunpowder and starch over to San Francisco. In those days it stretched out into the Bay, well past the shallows of the shoreline, so that deep draft sailing vessels could pick up and deliver freight. Most of the wharf crumbled and fell apart from disrepair. But a small section was still maintained by the city for lovers, families, and any fisher-persons crazy enough to eat the mercury-poisoned bay mutants that passed for fish.
I got off on San Pablo and walked a half a block to Alfredo's Cycles. Alfredo took care of my Aprilia RSV Mille motorcycle, with a fuel-injected 998 V-twin that was the fastest and smoothest bike I had ever owned. It put my former Ducati 900 SS to shame. (Photo credit: Willy Ivins and Chris Rubino)
Rose saw clients out of her wood-shingled cottage in Kensington: an unincorporated village in the hills just north of Berkeley. The home looked like it was just air-lifted from Nottingham: with cobblestone walkways, a wisteria covered porch, a peaked roof, and a view to die for.
Beyond the Plaza, the campus wrapped its buildings around undulating lawns, murmuring brooks, old growth trees, and pocket parks decorated with decent modern sculpture. It was a place to meander.
Our meeting place was called Ludwig's Fountain, named after a wonderful, Frisbee-catching, German shorthair pointer who waded in it daily from 1960-1965. There was nothing joyous about Tara's demeanor as I came walking up. She saw me and started walking down the path towards the stream. I hurried to catch up with her.
"Anything unusual looking?"
"Well, way down the street, about half way down the next block I can see a wood shingled kind of weird building. It's got a sign on it, "Ashkaz" or something.
"Ashkanaz?" I asked, but I already knew.
The flats of Berkeley are made up of working class neighborhoods squeezed between industrial districts. The run-down houses are becoming gentrified as house prices soar. Soccer fields are going in, and esoteric outlet stores are trying to upscale the slums. But Eighth Street is still a rough place to hang out after dark. Going north on it you head into the heart of an ugly industrial area filled with old warehouses, zinc plating factories, auto muffler repair shops, and weed-encrusted empty lots enclosed by rusty chain link fences.
All of a sudden the ugliness disappears. You can sit on a rustic bench, and listen to the whisper of water over rocks, accompanied by the arias of songbirds. For a sanguine moment you can forget the global pollution that is going on just down the street. This park is known by the locals as The Secret Path.
I hated Brewed Awakenings. It's always upbeat, warm and friendly. Classical music in the background. Comfy couches in the back.
It was a hangout for all the defrocked priests and renegade Baptists that taught up the street at the Graduate Theological Seminary. We locals called the seminary "Holy Hill." The theological students referred to it among themselves as "Holy Hell." Faculty and students cloistered together at this joint to mainline caffeine and deconstruct Christ.
Telegraph was getting ready for the night. Vendors were striking their racks of crystals, pipes, cheap Indian jewelry and tee shirts. The energy was shifting from busy hippie commercialism to the loneliness of the evening. Everyone got edgier and needier as the sun went behind the funky office buildings that lined the Ave.